The U.S. Department of Justice has added a bribery charge against one of the defendents in the DOJ’s sweeping investigation into a conspiracy to fix merchant mariner test scores at a U.S. Coast Guard exam center in Mandeville, Louisiana.
U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced the charge of bribery in a superseding bill of information related to its case against Eldridge Johnson, a former U.S. Coast Guard employee at the testing center.
Johnson stands accused of engaging in a scheme to receive bribes from merchant mariners who had applied for Coast Guard-issued licenses from about 2011 until his retirement in 2018.
According to the DOJ, Johnson offered and sold various forms of improper assistance, including reporting false information to the Coast Guard and, more commonly, selling examination questions and answers to mariners before they took the tests.
In order recruit participants, Johnson approached mariners when they appeared at the exam center, called mariners using contact information found in Coast Guard records, and encouraged past participants to refer other mariners to him.
Johnson was previously charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. The conspiracy charge alleges that Johnson, following his retirement, acted as an intermediary for Coast Guard exam center employee Dorothy Smith in a scheme in which Smith entered false exam scores in exchange for money. The scheme went on from at least April 2012 until May 2019, resulting more than 50 mariners to receive false scores, with some mariners obtaining false scores on multiple occasions. Almost all of the licenses were officer-level, including positions such as master, chief mate, and chief engineer.
Smith pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in June.
The original indictment filed in November 2020 charged 31 individuals in the scheme, including three former Coast Guard employees, including Johnson and Smith, and 28 mariners. The third Coast Guard employee, Beverly McCrary, pleaded guilty to being one of Smith’s intermediaries earlier this year and has yet been sentence.
All 31 individuals from the original indictment have since pleaded guilty and most have been sentenced.
Seven of the eight defendants charged in a separate indictment handed down in November 2021 have pleaded guilty to obtaining unearned endorsements through false scores.
If convicted, Johnson faces fifteen years for bribery and five years for conspiracy, in addition to a fine of up to $250,000 per offense plus up to three years of supervised release.
Sign up for our newsletter